Before there was the Internet to answer our questions with no judgement, Dr. Margie Holmes has been advising people about relationships, sex, lust, love, and everything in between. She has been at it for the last 30-odd years. She has given people, young and old, gay and straight, no nonsense advice through her books and advice columns. Juxtapose this with her light, airy manner that is always warm, welcoming, and nurturing, then it is no wonder she has made herself a household name—albeit one that was highly polarizing, especially in the beginning of her much-talked about career.
Already in her late sixties, Margie has not lost her bubbly personality, a stark contrast from her husband Jeremy’s quiet and reserved demeanor. We sit and wait for her to get ready in their home in a very quiet subdivision deep inside Quezon City. The home is the perfect size for this household of two, which Margie herself admits is really only managed and run by Jeremy. The fridge is mostly stocked with takeaway containers—Margie declares that between them, Jeremy is the only one who can cook. Everything is comfortably practical in the interiors, with bits of feminine frivolity thrown haphazardly into the mix.
Margie intermittently calls out to her husband, to us, from the second floor of their home as she gets her hair and makeup done, checking to see if everyone is comfortable and if Jeremy would be a darling, and do a little favor for her. Jeremy, for the most part, seems happy to acquiesce with whatever his wife needs. Once ready, she is all girlish candor, and it remains surprising to think she is so easy to talk to and never seems to take herself too seriously—despite the vast breadth of work she has published. But therein, I guess, lies Margie’s magic, and probably the secret to her longevity: her empathy to those she connects with is genuine.
It’s a particularly notable Valentine’s Day when one gets to spend it with her to discuss how love and relationships have evolved in our country and how she maintains her own lust for life.
ANCX: How long have you been married to Jeremy?
MH: With my fourth husband, Jeremy, we’ve been married… I always remember 2018 minus 2002, 16 years!
ANCX: How did you meet?
MH: We met 40 years ago. I remember because my daughter is 40 years old, and we met when she had just been born. We met at a breakfast that Cathay Pacific, Hyatt Hotel, and the British Embassy was giving. So we met when Margaret Thatcher—see how old we are, darling?—we met when Margaret Thatcher was elected, I don’t know what it was, Prime Minister. And we were married to other people, which was unfortunate, I guess. Unfortunate for us, and unfortunate for them, although not really. I was leaving my husband already when we met, so, you know. (Shrugs)
ANCX: So what makes your marriage work? What do you think it is?
MH: Ah, I don’t know, this sounds mayabang. Because he’s one of the brightest guys I’ve ever met, and he doesn’t get threatened when I question him, and … you know, it’s very rare to find a guy who doesn’t mind that you’re so bright yourself.
ANCX: No, it sounds true.
MH: You know what I mean, yeah? I think that is one of the things. And he’s so—for example, I’m older now, I’m 68 years old, ‘no? So, of course, my body is not like the way it was before. Our tits are not as perky... but they’re still perky, ha. (laughs) And you know, in the Philippines, men—or not even in the Philippines— they make the woman feel bad if her body is not as nice as it was before, when they have big bellies and all that. So I ask my husband, What if you don’t find me sexy anymore? He’s foreign pa, so he gets looks, you know. I mean, attractive, come hither looks. And he told me, 'But, darling, so am I, look at my belly.'
You also don’t find men like that. Who mean it, ha, not just pa-arte. And then thirdly, he’s sexy as hell. (laughs) Really.
ANCX: Do you think Filipinos are getting a better attitude towards sex in general?
MH: Yes, I think Filipinos are definitely getting a broader, maybe more mature view of sex. But it’s not because of the social media apps, it’s not because of the dating sites. I think it’s because we’re more open. So maybe you can talk to your friends more, maybe you’re not so worried about being judged. You can open up to people you trust, and let’s just hope those people are trustworthy.
ANCX: What makes them more open?
MH: I think it’s safer. Before, you never say you were separada, but now you can say [you are]. No big deal. We’re much more open about many things, even, let’s just say, being clinically depressed—in effect, having a mental disorder. You can say it now. Which is what I talk about in my book on depression, Down to 1. It’s the first book, ha, on clinical depression that’s been written in this country.
ANCX: What about safe sex?
MH: Oh, important, but the law has not helped so much with that, you know, with the RH Bill. If the law makes it difficult for you—it’s related eh, you cannot separate it. I know a lot of people who want to practice birth control. They want to have easy access to contraception. But you know, [the law] makes it difficult. The law does not support them. If they don’t say, Yes, let’s have some funding for this, because there is funding. And if they don’t do it, how can a poor person get the contraceptives they want? Do you know that one of the reasons—Darling, (she turns towards her husband, who is watching a cricket match on the computer) tell me if I’m speaking out of turn. That’s my husband who studied in a school of monks, Benedictine monks. They were the ones who used to be quite devoted, devout Catholics—that’s one of the reasons he became atheist because he saw how many of the priests in the Philippines lied so that the RH Bill wouldn’t be passed. I don’t know if we can talk about that, but that I have a lot of passion for. Can we talk about that? Because these are the things that really...well, I’m old na e, so these are the things that really matter to me. You know, I’m in the twilight of my career...
ANCX: Do you feel like you’re in the twilight of your career?
MH: I’m 68. I mean, to be honest. I can still write, but I tell you, I gave a lecture last night, we were home by 11 pm. I was wasted today, and I was just so happy I only had one event, I cancelled my gym. I only had one event, which was [this interview].
ANCX: You have always championed the LGBTQA cause, and even published a book on the subject at a time when no one was speaking out about being gay. How do you feel about things now 20 years after your book A Different Love has been published?
MH: When A Different Love got published about 20 years ago, the Church was against me. They wrote to me—not just the Church, so many people wrote me such nasty letters. Which kinda shocked me, you know, but now I think it’s ok. Oh, now I was telling someone that... God, I don’t know if the person will get mad at me... no, but he said I have permission to talk about it. Rajo Laurel and Alwyn Ignacio, [the latter] is now the editor of a lifestyle page, in Abante, which is the other periodical [I write for]. They both said the book changed their lives. Because [back] then I think homophobia was rampant all over the country. I don’t think [gay people] may need this book anymore. You don’t need it to feel safe, you don’t need it to feel like you’re ok, you don’t need it to feel that God loves you, but then during that time, they all felt God hated them, especially with that old saying that I hate, “God loves the sinner, but not the sin.” Because being a homosexual is not a sin, engaging in homosexual acts is not a sin.
ANCX: Yeah, all these Catholic messaging that are barely subliminal, and it's so very, very confusing to those who were questioning their sexuality.
MH: Yeah, and yet, can you imagine if you’re gay and you don’t know what’s going on and then you feel that God hates you? And that’s, in the Bible, an abomination, isn’t it? Isn’t that where He says, I’ll spit you out of my mouth? Sad.
ANCX: Now, your latest book is...
MH: It’s the reprint of Life, Love, Lust. It’s a second edition. They had—if I can make yabang—eleven reprints in less than one year when this book first came out. 60,000 copies, 25 years ago. And so we decided after 25 years, we’d come up with another edition. What I did was I kept 50 percent of the columns of Life, Love, Lust in the past, 25 years ago, and 50 percent of things that are happening now, which didn’t happen so much before. For example, LGBTQIA, OFW relationships and how it’s affected our lives, now cyber-relationships, just to see if you could deal with it, not in the stereotypical, Hay naku, she must be desperate, and only mga chipipays go there. But there were issues or situations that I dealt with here that did not seem to bother people 25 years ago or that did not seem to affect people 25 years ago that affect them now.
ANCX: Let’s change tracks—
ANCX: Is Margarita Holmes the woman a sexually adventurous woman? Or are you the wrong person to ask?
MH: Yeah, you can ask my husband.
ANCX: He’s covering his mouth, trying not to laugh.
MH: Yes. (turns once again to Jeremy) Darling, can I say, 'You can ask my three previous husbands?' No, no, no, I’ll tell you the other nice thing about Jeremy is he never made me feel ashamed of my past, my previous three husbands, which I think is fantastic. Because I think my third husband, who was quite conservative, would’ve preferred that, and I never brought it out. I would never lie, but I never brought it out [that Margie was sexually adventurous]. But to Jeremy, it was not a big deal. In fact, he would volunteer the information, sometimes when he wanted to see people shocked.
ANCX: Alright. Considering both of you write the Two-Pronged relationship advice column in Rappler together, what's it like to argue?
MH: This is why I love arguing with him. (laughs) I think he was shocked the first time when he finally presented a point that was logical to me. It made perfect sense. And I just said, 'Ok.' He didn’t have to convince me anymore, you know. And he’s the same. You don’t have people like that. They stick to their point of view and they try to ram it down your throats or whatever. But once we see the point, it's okay.
ANCX: So you reach a détente?
MH: Yeah. But I don’t think it’s really even a détente because we agree. We see his point, and we agree with what he’s saying. It’s not, Let’s agree to disagree, no. We get to that point sometimes about a column. At one point, he was much more a conservative than I was. But sometimes, he’s conservative about different things and I’m conservative about other things... but I think it works well together.
ANCX: If you weren’t Margarita Holmes sex therapist, sex guru, what do you think you would have become?
MH: Oh, Jesus, sex guru. Your phrase is so funny, if I were not Margarita Holmes, sex therapist-clinical psychologist, who do I think I would have become? I think I would be a full-time writer. If my husband or my family could support me. I mean, let’s face it, you don’t make money from selling books. It has to be a real love for it, hindi ba?
ANCX: What keeps you going? You said you’re an extrovert, but you also said you’re tired.
MH: Oh, yes, I get tired but, you know, talking to you, meeting all the wonderful people, it makes me so excited. It makes me happy, and my poor husband will have to pick up the mess, because I’ll be so tired, I don’t think I have enough energy to eat, which is good because we hardly have food in the house. (laughs)
ANCX: Unless your husband cooks it...
MH: Unless he cooks it. Or what we usually do—Darling, can I tell our secret? Whenever we go out to eat, we always order a lot of food so we have leftovers. ‘Oh, good, this is three meals.’ Or, ‘Oh, good, we have three different potajes that will last us not for three meals but for three days.’ But you know, that’s life. I asked my husband once, (turns to Jeremy) 'Darling, what did I say?' Oh, oh, I said, 'Do you know that while I’m not retired, I can’t really do cooking and house-cleaning?'
ANCX: So you’ll never retire?
MH: That’s what he said, exactly! He said, "You won’t retire."
All portraits by Joseph Pascual.
Makeup by Jef Ong for MAC Cosmetics